In this explainer, we will learn how to explain three philosophical thinking skills: criticism, debate, and tolerance.
Criticism, in a philosophical sense, is the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a position or argument.
Key Term: Criticism
Criticism is the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a position or argument.
When we take a critical attitude toward a claim, we do not assume that it is true or false. Instead, a critical appraisal of a claim examines the arguments that can be made in favor of it or against it.
Criticism can help us improve our positions by pointing out weaknesses that can be fixed. However, criticism sometimes indicates flaws in a position that are very serious and cannot be fixed.
Good criticism takes into account the strengths of the reasons for, as well as against, a position. Criticism is good when it is used to examine positions in a neutral and objective way. It is also good when reasons are given equal weight whether they support or oppose one’s own beliefs or position.
Bad criticism, on the other hand, involves stubbornly insisting on the reasons and evidence that support one’s own position while ignoring or dismissing any reasons that oppose that position.
Criticism is expected and welcomed by those who practice philosophical thinking skills. For example, Plato’s best student, Aristotle, was also his greatest critic.
When asked why he made such forceful criticisms of his teacher, Aristotle answered, “I love Plato, but I love truth more.”
Because his greatest love was for truth, he could not ignore the problems he saw in Plato’s ideas.
Aristotle knew that Plato also loved truth above all else. Therefore, criticism was actually his way of being a faithful student to Plato.
Example 1: Criticism
Aristotle is sometimes reported to have said, “I love Plato, but I love truth more.” What does this phrase mean?
- A student should defer to their teacher.
- To love someone is to agree with them, even if they are wrong.
- It is not possible to truly love someone who is wrong.
- In the pursuit of truth, we may have to criticize the views of people we love.
- Aristotle was a bad student.
Aristotle meant that if his love of truth conflicted with his love of his friend and teacher, he would criticize him.
Options A and B both suggest that a good student or friend will not disagree. These statements are contrary to what Aristotle meant to say.
Option C cannot be correct because Aristotle’s belief that Plato was wrong did not stop Aristotle from loving him.
Option E is not correct because disagreeing with his teacher did not make Aristotle a bad student. It was part of what made him a good one.
The answer is option D because it acknowledges that the pursuit of truth may bring people into conflict with those they love.
A debate is a conversation between people with opposing views. An open debate is any debate in which both parties aim at reaching the truth.
In an open debate, both parties are willing to listen to the reasons presented by the other and to even change their views if their opponent’s arguments are convincing.
Key Term: Open Debate
An open debate is a conversation between people with opposing views, aimed at reaching the truth.
On the other hand, in a closed debate, the participants are not interested in the views of their counterparts. Instead, they are solely concerned with defending their own position and attacking that of their opponent. That might be because they are convinced that their opponent is wrong or because they are not really interested in finding the truth.
Key Term: Closed Debate
A closed debate is a conversation between people with opposing views in which they are solely concerned with defending their own position and attacking that of their opponent.
Debate partners present the reasons for holding their views to one another and use arguments to try to convince their opponents to change their own views.
Key Term: Argument
An argument is a series of statements made in support of a position. In a specifically philosophical sense, an argument is a series of statements, called premises, that logically entail a conclusion.
Open debate requires clear communication. It requires both parties to debate with an open mind, motivated by a desire to get to the truth. This open-mindedness allows the parties to assess each other’s arguments objectively.
Open-mindedness distinguishes open debate from closed debate, in which each party is solely concerned with defending its own position.
Example 2: Open Debate
Fill in the blank: Open debate is .
- a conversation between people with opposing views, aimed at reaching the truth
- a struggle between parties with conflicting aims, in which both are concerned with defeating the other
- an opportunity for clever people to show off their intellect and wit
- an exercise in futility, since any true disagreements cannot be resolved
- something to avoid, due to the risk that a clever opponent may convince you to believe what is not true
Open debate is a conversation between people with opposing views, aimed at reaching the truth.
That means that the opposing parties in an open debate should not have conflicting aims but rather the same aim: the truth.
That is because open debate is not just concerned with the practical considerations and interests of the participants.
It also means that it is not an opportunity for clever people to show off, since cleverness may distract us from the truth or allow us to become convinced that we have reached the truth when we have not.
Although many disagreements are not resolved and there may be some that cannot be resolved at all, many disagreements can be resolved. Therefore, debate is not futile.
It is true that open debate carries the risk that a clever opponent might convince us to believe what is not true.
However, that does not mean that we should avoid debating because there is a far greater risk that we will have false beliefs if we refuse to subject our beliefs to debate.
The correct answer is A.
Intellectual tolerance can facilitate open debate. Intellectual tolerance is the recognition that one’s own thinking is prone to error and that the views of other people may be right.
Key Term: Intellectual Tolerance
Intellectual tolerance is the recognition that one’s own thinking is prone to error and that the views of other people may be right.
Intellectual tolerance allows us to accept criticism of our own views and consider the views of others, even when we think they are wrong. It is the opposite of dogmatism. Dogmatism is an excessively strong commitment to one’s position and rejection of alternative views.
However, debate is impossible if one takes tolerance too far and defers to one’s opponents. Debate requires holding and defending one’s own positions even while admitting that it is possible that they could be wrong.
Example 3: Intellectual Intolerance
Which of the following is not an aspect of intellectual tolerance?
- Agreeing with whatever other people say
- Acknowledging difference of opinion
- Recognizing the legitimacy of disagreement
- Acknowledging uncertainty regarding your beliefs
- Listening carefully to what other people say
Intellectual tolerance is a complex skill that has many different aspects.
Acknowledging difference of opinion is crucial to intellectual tolerance because intellectual tolerance requires the recognition that there are ways of thinking other than our own.
Recognizing the legitimacy of disagreement is important for intellectual tolerance because intellectual tolerance is impossible without understanding that other people may disagree without being irrational.
Not all of our beliefs are absolutely certain, and intellectual tolerance involves acknowledging when our beliefs are uncertain.
Listening carefully to what other people say is crucial to intellectual tolerance because it is the first step to taking the views of other people seriously.
However, agreeing with whatever other people say does not make us intellectually tolerant; it makes us intellectually spineless. That means that we are unable to defend our own views. Therefore, the correct answer is A.
Let’s summarize some of the key points we have covered in this explainer.
- Criticism is the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a position or argument.
- Criticism is expected and welcomed by those who practice philosophical thinking skills.
- Open debate is a conversation between people with opposing views, aimed at reaching the truth.
- Closed debate is a conversation between people with opposing views, in which they are solely concerned with defending their own position and attacking that of their opponent.
- Debate partners present the reasons for holding their views to one another and try to convince their opponents to change their own views.
- Intellectual tolerance is the recognition that one’s own thinking is prone to error and that the views of other people may be right.